From education to employment

How to make competitors bloom for the WorldSkills Competition

Stephanie Willoughby, Head of Floristry, Plumpton College

The UK Skills team at this years RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

As one of a number of UK Skills Training Managers and WorldSkills Experts that help prepare the young and skilled individuals that compete on an international stage at WorldSkills,  I am now looking at the calendar and realising that the next WorldSkills Competition comes to London in little over a year, taking place in October 2011.

The role of a UK Skills Training Manager covers the training, development and assessment of the nation’s potential Team UK competitors, so that they can perform under pressure at the highest possible standards. A Training Manager also acts as a WorldSkills Expert responsible for defining and upholding world class standards within their skill, for the purpose of the competition and beyond.

The WorldSkills Competition is a global skills competition for young people, hosted every two years by one of the 51 member countries. At the Competition young people compete over four days in up to 45 vocational skills to identify the most talented individuals and teams and rank the member countries according to their training performance. In this way the WorldSkills Competition acts as a unique commentator on the relative quality of each country’s vocational education and training system. 

WorldSkills London 2011, which takes place on 5 – 8 October at ExCeL London, will see teams of young people from over 50 nations competing in a wide range of skills competitions from mobile robotics to cooking and aircraft maintenance right through to my own skill – floristry.

Given all this, it is of the utmost importance that all colleges, training providers and employers in the UK are aware of the value and significance of this event, and of the UK’s involvement in promoting the development of skills much needed to maintain a strong industrial workforce.

As a lecturer at Plumpton College, East Sussex,  I have been fortunate enough to work with many young people who have gone on to win a number of medals and Medallions For Excellence at the WorldSkills Shizuoka (Japan) 2007 and WorldSkills Calgary (Canada) 2009.

Not only has this given a boost to the floristry industry but it has also inspired many more people to enter a wide range of UK Skills national competitions – WorldSkills UK, some of which lead onto the WorldSkills International Competition. Successes have included 24-year-old floristry competitor Natalie Stanyer who won a Medallion For Excellence at WorldSkills Shizuoka 2007 and went on to become a young entrepreneur by starting up her own  floristry business. Natalie now has a strong commitment to training and developing her own staff.

Florists Joe Massie and Lauren Curry whom I worked with in the run up to WorldSkills Calgary 2009 both achieved success at this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show. For Joe, the event saw him retain his title as RHS Young Florist of the Year and Gold, Best in Show Award, which he first won the previous year, in 2009. Joe achieved a Bronze Medal at WorldSkills Calgary 2009.

The role of a training manager working with potential WorldSkills contenders is one that requires the support of my College and colleagues for the time I am out of the College. I am fortunate that the Principal of my college, Des Lambert, recognises that Plumpton College’s own mission of ‘providing excellent education and training’ can be helped by raising aspirations and promoting world class standards within curriculum planning and delivery.

The experience I have gained as a UK Skills Training Manager and an international judge at WorldSkills has added another dimension to my work as a teacher which I am able to share with my students and colleagues.

Plumpton  College is a specialist land based college in the South East Region of England where a network of college principals headed by Stella Mbubaegbu from Highbury College, Portsmouth, promote the value of competitions within teaching and learning whilst working closely with other agencies that support the skills agenda.

The Training Managers for every skill included in Team UK work to develop the very best in competitors. UK Skills has developed a range of materials outlining the process of training and the journey both for the competitor and the training manager. From the competitor short listing process onwards we have our sights set on achieving  world class standards, which generally means a broader perspective and a different approach to the skill and its development to that used for national programmes and qualifications.

In talking with other training managers, from both the UK and across the world, there is a common desire to share expertise, passion and enthusiasm with young people from all backgrounds and sectors. However, to be truly effective we know that we must share what we have learned and gained across the professional community of practitioners and trainers, with industry, colleges or with other training organisations.  We are, after all, a valuable resource within vocational education and training, through our colleges and industries. Our scope is as broad as the system wishes; we have insights to share about standards, programme design, teaching, learning and assessment and qualifications. If you would like to explore this more, please visit the UK Skills website and look at the education and skills pages.

Stephanie Willoughby, Head of Floristry, Plumpton College

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